Women and the Irish University Question
21T16:25:35Z October 2016
The Irish Universities Act of 1908 brought to an end a protracted dispute over the ‘Irish university question’ which had dominated the Irish political agenda at least since the 1850s. Although university access was an issue which affected only a small minority, the politically charged nature of the university question was such that it represented more than simply the provision of an adequate university infrastructure; it was in a way colonised by the more pressing issue of rights for Catholics and ultimately by concerns around nationality. The stumbling block for successive governments was the provision of adequate university education for the expanding Catholic middle-classes, whilst at the same time adhering to a non-denominational policy agenda. Although the settlement reached under the Irish Universities Act was presented as one based on the principle of non-denominationalism, it was a clever compromise, conceding to the demands for denominational education on both sides without overtly supporting it. However, despite the highly charged nature of the Irish university question, the subject of women’s place within any university settlement received scant attention. The issue of providing for a more egalitarian model of university education was narrowly understood in terms of denominational equality for males. To quote Francis Sheehy Skeffington, prominent suffragist and nationalist, ‘in all the history of the Irish University Question, it is astonishing how little attention has been given to that aspect of it which concerns the position of University Women, and how generally it is assumed that the matter is one for discussion and settlement by men only’.
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Harford, J. and Rush, C. (eds.). Have Women Made a Difference? Women in Irish Universities, 1850-2010
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